Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1819 - 1891)

Moby Dick
by Herman Melville (1819
- 1891)

Type of Work:

Allegorical novel


The high Seas; early nineteenth century

Principal Characters

Ishmael, a teacher-seaman (and narrator)

Queequeg, a hardened and savage harpooner

Ahab, captain of the Pequod

Starbuck and Stubb, Ahab's first and second

Fedallah, Captain Ahab's Parsee servant
and seer

Story Overveiw

A Massachusetts schoolmaster, Ishmael
chose to give up the comfort and security of his classroom and fulfill
his romantic desire to go to sea. Leaving Manhatto, he traveled to the
seaport town of New Bedford to seek out work on a whaler.

Ishmael's first night in New Bedford was
spent in the crusty Spouter Inn near the water_ front. There he found the
only bed available which, by necessity, he consented to share with an unknown
harpooner. His roommate turned out to be a bizarre fellow indeed, a hardened

South-sea islander whose body was covered with tattoos. But after Ishmael's
initial fear had subsided, he found this "strange bedfellow," Queequeg,
to be quite friendly. The huge man offered to share his small fortune and
an embalmed human head with Ishmael. "At first I knew not what to make
of this," Ishmael said, "but soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me.

I remembered a story of a white man - a whaleman too - who, falling among
cannibals, had been tattooed by them. I concluded that this harpooner,
in the course of his distant voy_ ages, must have met with a similar adventure.

And what is it, thought 1, after all! It's only his outside; a man can
be honest in any sort of skin."

The two men became fast friends, both signing
on as harpooners aboard the Pequod, a Quaker-owned whaler out of Nantucket.

There had been some question around New Bedford as to the future fate of
the Pequod because of its eccentric captain, Ahab. But both Ishmael and

Queequeg had no intention of changing their plans.

They set sail. For the first few days the
curious captain stayed out of sight in his cabin, and the Pequod was under
the command of the first and second mates, Mr. Starbuck and Mr. Stubb.

But as the ship continued to sail southward, a stern, relentless man suddenly
strode out on deck: Captain Ahab himself. Ishmael was struck by the man's
austere expression, but even more by his spectacular artificial leginstead
of a wooden leg, Ahab wore an attachment carved from the jawbone of a whale.

This was complemented by a gaping scar which ran down the side of his face
into his collar, so that he appeared to be scarred from head to foot.

For several days the crew sailed on in
search of whaling schools. Then one day Ahab appeared on deck and summoned
all the men. He nailed a one-ounce gold piece to the mast and announced
that the gold would become the property of the first man to sight the great
white whale known as Moby Dick. All the men except Starbuck and Stubb were
enthusiastic about the Captain's challenge. To the two top mates, Ahab's
obsession with the white whale was far beyond reason. Starbuck contended
that the Captain's madness over Moby Dick was a danger to those in his
charge. Ahab had already lost his leg to the whale and his mates were afraid
his reckless quest would end in the loss of all their lives at the next
encounter. But none of this diminished the enthusiasm of the other crewmen;
they drank an oath with Ahab to the destruction of the white whale.

Learning that the last sightings of the
whale had been near the Cape of Good Hope, Ahab immediately plotted his
course. Upon approaching the Cape, the ship came on a school of sperm whales,
and the men busied themselves with harpooning and stripping the huge mammals,
then melting down and storing the whale oil.

When they happened upon another whaling
vessel, Captain Ahab inquired further about the white whale. The captain
of the ship warned him not to pursue the whale, but Ahab could not be deterred.

Later, another ship stopped the Pequod,
and the captain came aboard to buy some oil. He too was interrogated by

Ahab about Moby Dick, but he replied that he had no news concerning the
monster. just after he had departed the Pequod, a school of whales surfaced,
and both ships' crews set out after them. The rival crew had a commanding
lead, but the men of the Pequod, spurred on by Starbuck and Stubb, soon
outdistanced them, and Queequeg harpooned the school's largest whale. Now
the work began. The carcass was dragged alongside and lashed to